Personalised content — the basics and the benefits

We live in an age of instant communication, but few of the messages we’re bombarded with have an impact. And how could they? One estimate puts the number of ads a person sees at 6,000 to 10,000 per day. And email inboxes are perpetually refilling with promotional content seeking an audience. The situation is just as frustrating for marketers who struggle to serve people the right content where and when it’s going to have the greatest chance of connecting.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. Personalized content experiences can break through the clutter, helping you find your audiences and engage with them in ways that feel more direct and personal. In this article, we’ll cover key areas of understanding around personalized content marketing. 

Let’s start by defining content personalization.

What is content personalization?

Content personalization uses data about consumers to individualize their experiences when they interact with your brand. With this information, your algorithms can understand who is visiting your website or social media accounts and who is receiving your emails, among other touchpoints. They can then tailor the content your customers see to match their needs and preferences.

At its best, a content personalization strategy brings both value to your customers and benefit to your business, driving customer engagement and creating a stronger relationship between you both.

The effect that personalization has on the bottom line is unmistakable. A McKinsey study showed “companies that grow faster drive 40% more of their revenue from personalization than their slower-growing counterparts.” Research from Forrester revealed that 4 in 5 Experience Leaders — company execs responsible for delightful customer experiences — overperformed in key success metrics when they used personalized content.

Presenting your audiences with more relevant content they’re directly interested in has gone beyond being a business best practice. More and more, it’s a consumer expectation.

The impact of personalized content, 40% of revenue for fast-growing companies derived from personalization. 4 in 5 company heads leading customer experience overperformed using personalized content.

Content can be personalized using several different types of customer information: demographic data, contextual data, and behavioral data. Here’s a brief intro to each one.

  • Demographic data. This tells you who your customers are. It’s the sort of personal data most people are familiar with, including age, income, employment details, interests, and more. With this information, marketers could, for example, show an offer to parents of young children versus retirees.
  • Contextual data. This comes from a customer’s environment to tell you how, where, and when they are interacting with you. This might include the device or browser they use, platforms and sites they are coming from, their social media interaction, their local weather, and time of day. It’s contextual data that lets an international website default to your native language when you visit.
  • Behavioral data. This is gathered from someone’s activity on your website and other brand touchpoints. It’s usually information centered around purchasing patterns (when they buy things and for what activity or occasion), the benefits they’re looking for, and loyalty. This data lets you know how customers interact with your brand, which content they consume, and from where. It can include historical data, drilling all the way down to how well individual images and links perform.

Like demographic and contextual data, behavioral data helps you develop personalized content. And you can combine information from one or all these types of data to create even more compelling customer experiences.

Now let’s look at ways you might consider personalizing your content.

Five popular ways to personalize content

You have a range of choices available for how to personalize your content. Here we’ll go over some of the most prevalent approaches.

  1. Personalized web pages. These give your online visitors a site experience built just for them. Instead of a single approach to content leading to one generic experience, website personalization lets you present dynamic content that changes based on individual data. With content tailored to each visitor’s profile, interest and engagement go up.
  1. Product recommendations. This is a popular way to turn customers’ behavioral data on ecommerce sites into personalized shopping lists of items they might be interested in. Customers see products related to their searches, like discounts or offers for specific product categories or similar purchases other customers have made.

    Data for these recommendations can come from previous website searches, including specific page visits. User-generated information from account settings, surveys, and behaviors can also contribute, as can knowing the type of device someone is on. Real-time data, including where a customer is and what time or day of the week it is, gives you fodder for product recommendations as well. For example, knowing a customer’s birthday lets you add to their celebration by offering a one-day sale or special discount.
  1. Retargeted ads. Reach specific demographic groups or get a second chance at making a sale to recent visitors with these ads. Social media platforms give you access to demographics, including age, gender, location, and special interests, so retargeting is simple. You can create posts that appeal to your target audience, then serve them directly to those customers as they browse their social media accounts. Or you can retarget people who visited your site previously but didn’t complete a conversion — for example, they browsed but didn’t purchase anything or fill out a contact form.
  1. GPS-based map apps. These apps allow content personalization by targeting customers where they are at that moment. Think of the times you’ve searched for a type of store “near me.” Your business can be ready to respond to similar searches — people with apps like Google Maps get suggestions from local businesses on places to shop, dine, get gas, and more. And if you’re a retailer with, say, locations all over Selangor, but you’re having a sale only in your Petaling Jaya store, you can target previous shoppers and web visitors just in that area.
  1. Email personalization. This lets you show customers they’re not just another name on a mailing list. Customizing an email can be as simple as including their name in the subject line with a personalization token or as extensive as multiple campaigns segmented by customer type. This tailored content connects with your customers more individually, so it’s more likely to drive them to your website and take the desired action.

But as our lives are lived more and more online, challenges to content personalization have arisen. We’ll cover these next so you can prepare for and mitigate them.

Common challenges of personalized content

Privacy concerns and issues with data security have brought about two new demands on personalized content marketing. Knowing about them before you start crafting your content strategy makes it easier to avoid any pitfalls.

First, consumers now have more rights as to how companies use their data. In Malaysia, the Personal Data and Protection Act 2010 governs the processing of personal data concerning commercial transactions.

In essence, the collection and processing of personal data is only permitted on the condition that consent is obtained from the individual subject of the personal data.

Transparency around data usage and protection presents another challenge. A global conversation on privacy and security has evolved around unsecured data and the frequency of security breaches. We have all lived with technology long enough to appreciate its benefits but also to understand its drawbacks, especially when personal data falls into the wrong hands.

The trust consumers once had — like accepting terms of use without any second thoughts — is over. Today, companies must continue to show that they will use consumer data in ways that are safe, legal, and enhance customer experiences — or legislators could target them next.

These emerging data regulations and widespread security concerns are important to be aware of and understand, but they shouldn’t deter you from personalized content marketing. Content personalization — done right — benefits everyone.

Why people are paying attention to content personalization

Every day, your customers are inundated with ads and promotional messages — when they’re shopping online, web searching, reading the news, or booking travel. Digital ads are everywhere, but instead of leading to clear sets of options, they can create an overload of choices.

It’s content personalization that cuts through the noise, helping consumers narrow down their choices based on their own preferences. Personalized content removes the hesitation that comes with too much information and too many choices, replacing it with tailored, specific reasons to act or buy.

And content personalization offers significant ROI, too. Our research shows a tenfold improvement in conversion rates for companies moving from traditional content to one-to-one personalization. A Forrester Consulting study showed content personalization initiatives exceed revenue targets and expectations by 68% and conversion rates by 67%. Numbers like these are hard to ignore.

It should be no surprise, then, that 50% of senior executives increased their 2022 investments in platforms that enabled personalization at scale. They see the benefits clearly.

50% of senior executives increased their 2022 investments in platforms that enabled personalization at scale.

Getting started with personalized content

Content personalization harnesses data to help you uncover target audiences, letting you meet them where they are with purchasing options that match their needs. It’s a wonderful win-win — customers get exactly the sort of content experiences they find useful and instantly have reasons to keep interacting with you.

A good place to start building your personalization strategy is by mapping your customer journey. This gives you a better understanding of the touchpoints where people interact with your brand and can show which ones are most important at each stage of their journey. Chapter 3 of Delivering Personalized Content for Dummies also gives you a roadmap for this exercise.

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